At my fourth South By Southwest Interactive Conference, I had the usual great time seeing and meeting smart friends from all over the world, as well as caught a few (mediocre) sessions. The conference has become so incredibly large and spread out, many attendees talked about ways to improve customer experience. The lines are killing some of the experience and the sessions are spread out so much geographically it’s easy to make a call of skipping something instead of risking half your day.
There are several ways the conference organizers have attempted to create a better experience as the scale has become unwieldy. Some are working, others are not. So where was the customer experience at SXSW?
1. Mobile apps should help users stay mobile.
The SXSW app released was indeed helpful. Instead of hauling around the ginormous book describing sessions and locations, the app held a lot of this information within the palm of my hand. The goal was to help conference-goers on the go, and to that end it did. There were a few challenges, including the app crashing whenever it sent push messages and not updating with the most current information. I missed a session because the location was wrong. It’s the type of thing you’d like to see updated in real-time on the app.
2. Customer feedback doesn’t need to be complicated to act upon.
During registration, attendees were provided with traditional conference tote bags full of…stuff. A few years ago, the SXSW virtual gift bag helped alleviate some of the unnecessary fliers and brochures. (Ordering Moo business cards have probably been the best swag for a few years for many attendees.) BUT the bag is still full of stuff that is clearly not wanted. There was a huge recycling container set up just next to the registration area, where most attendees dumped the SXSW newspaper and many dumped the big conference books, along with a handful of promotional cards. I can only hope that the team stuffing the bags in the back were allowed to recycle these into new bags. It’s time to ditch the paper, or at least allow some choice for the attendees to select what they actually want.
3. Trade shows only work if you work them.
I get that sitting at a booth all day explaining products can be a drag. I get that many people just stop by for the swag. But I had more than one conversation which was lackluster to say the least. One guy launched into his pitch so fast he didn’t realize I was not only familiar with his brand, but I was a fan and heavy user with questions. He barely took a breath and talked at me. No, thanks. In many cases, the customer experience STARTS with this interaction. If this is your first impression, why not do your best to make the experience one to remember, and not just for the best swag.
SXSW has become such a huge event that there will inevitably be hiccups. There will be times when the crowds make everything challenging. And sometimes experience improvement requires experimentation and risk. I hope the organizers continue to experiment with what works and what will work better.